Bernard, Clemens, Rader Jostle in District 27

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: May 30, 2012 3:55 AM
Kevin Rader, Jeff Clemens and Mack Bernard

Kevin Rader, Rep. Jeff Clemens and Rep. Mack Bernard

An open Senate seat in Palm Beach County has drawn the interest of three current and former lawmakers, all Democrats, in what could be a heated primary contest.

The candidates for Senate District 27 so far include Rep. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, Rep. Mack Bernard of West Palm Beach, and former Rep. Kevin Rader of Delray Beach. No Republicans have filed in the district, which includes all or parts of Palm Beach, Greenacres, West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach in eastern Palm Beach County.

And no serious GOP contender is expected to enter the race. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink carried 64.3 percent of the vote in 2010, and President Barack Obama won the district with 68.7 percent in 2008.

"It's a winner-take-all [race] in the primary," said Rader, who ran unsuccessfully for a Senate seat that included parts of the new district, but was significantly different, in 2010.

Redistricting has played a role in the match-up, with Clemens' and Bernard's House seats both significantly redrawn earlier this year. Both instead decided to run for a Senate seat that includes significant portions of the areas they currently represent.

"People see opportunity," Clemens said. "But for me, I see the same people I represent right now. I enjoy fighting for them in Tallahassee."

And already, attention is turning to the primary electorate and finding a way for each candidate to distinguish nimself in a way that Rader identified himself -- as the "better Democrat." And one of those battles is over who would best defend lower- and middle-income voters in the Senate.

Clemens points to Rader's job as an insurance agent and Bernard receiving a "Champion for Business" award from business lobby Associated Industries of Florida as evidence that they would support special interests in Tallahassee.

"It's basically two business and big insurance candidates against one middle-class candidate," he said.

Both of his competitors push back against that claim, with Rader highlighting some of his big-name endorsements to defend his credentials as someone with average voters' interests in mind.

"There are no bigger defenders of the middle class than Congressmen Robert Wexler and Ted Deutch, and they are endorsing me in this race," he said.

Bernard also bristled.

"I've represented some of the poorest people in Palm Beach County. ... Maybe he's representing the middle class, but we're representing all the classes in my community," he said.

But the candidates largely agree on what will be the driving issue in the race: jobs and education.

"We want to bring more business to Florida and we want to improve our education," Bernard said.

Demographics could also come into play. Bernard, who is black, has highlighted the fact that Palm Beach County could be without minority representation in its delegation after redistricting has scrambled the traditional district arrangements. About 27.4 percent of the district's voting-age population are Hispanic, and another 25.7 percent are black.

"It's a minority-tilted district," he said.

The primary is Aug. 14.

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